PHOENIX, NY – Phoenix High School hosted the annual Oswego County Olympiad on Thursday (May 11,) allowing hundreds of exceptional student athletes the chance to participate in friendly track and field competition.
In its third year, 22-year-old Tim Conners of Fulton, who narrowly defeated a life threatening cancer diagnosis as a teenager, kicked off the event with his inspiring opening remarks.
Speaking to the crowd of 460 student athletes, Conners spread a message of perseverance, a lesson he learned while battling for his life and even after as he discovered how to operate daily life in a sightless world.
“As you all know, we have the power in our hands to do whatever we want and we can overcome those barriers and that’s what we are here today to celebrate,” he told the young athletes.
Conners offered CiTi and all nine school districts represented a signed copy of his book, It’s Impossible Until You Do It and capped his opening statement as all 460 students repeated the title aloud.
“I believe we have the power to do anything and if you live by this, you all will have that power as well,” he said, as the group repeated the mantra in unison.
Conners will continue spreading inspiration as he plans to tackle the highest point on the African continent by summitting Mt. Kilimanjaro next month as part of a fundraiser deemed MounTimPossible.
While his words resonated with those who heard them, Conners himself was touched by the opportunity to share his thoughts at the third annual Olympiad.
“This speech was different for me, I didn’t want to center it around disability but instead focus on possibilities. It was definitely an exciting moment for me,” Conners told Oswego County Today. “I think it was really powerful to say those words together, the kids really got behind it.”
Powerful was a common theme in describing the day’s events as Christopher Bryne in his first year as Phoenix superintendent was inspired by the event as well.
“The whole day is just wonderful,” he said. “Seeing the student’s smiles is just amazing. This event is one that administration, families, and staff from across the county all really look forward to and enjoy.”
Growing yearly from just over 300 student athletes in the first year to 460 participants in the third year, Bryne said the success is credited to Angie Neiss and the Olympiad committee, the grounds and maintenance team, event sponsors, and the many faculty, staff and students that volunteer.
Angie Neiss, physical education teacher at the Phoenix high school is responsible for bringing the Olympiad to Oswego County after attending the Special Olympics in CNS for years.
As the Onondaga County event grew larger and larger, officials asked Neiss if there would be any interest in coordinating an event for Oswego County.
“We very quickly got the green light from all the district superintendents throughout the county who were eager to participate,” she recalled. And from there, she never looked back as the event unfolded and brought great success and a friendly competitive spirit to all participants.
Each year, the event grows slightly bigger from the last having added in Move Along services that allow students the opportunity to experience sports as they would without the use of their legs.
They continued to add on opportunities for students to get information and goodies from McCue Dentistry and State Farm Insurance and new this year, offered a calming tent for students that need to step away and relax.
Sponsors making monetary donations or donating items allowed students to have free donuts, fruit, granola bars, and beverages and the Phoenix Sports Boosters manned the snack bar for guests to purchase food and provided a free lunch to all 460 students.
To bring it all together, 80 Nation Honor Society students made up a large portion of the more than 100 total volunteers that made the event possible.
“I really have to take the time to thank the grounds and maintenance team,” Neiss said. “They are phenomenal, they’ve volunteered extra time and have done absolutely everything possible to make this happen every year.”
Students from all nine school districts across the county as well as CiTi arrive at the school early in the morning, exiting the bus to a crowd of cheerful students, mascots, and music before making their way to the track to begin the opening parade announcing each school as they make their way around to the crowd.
After opening remarks, the students participate in various track and field events throughout the day.
“It’s just amazing. I love watching them get off the bus, their faces all lit up, and then right into the parade, seeing the rainbow of colorful t-shirts of all the districts represented. I just stand in the middle of the field as it begins and soak it all in, I think to myself, ‘This is it. We’re doing it,’” Neiss recalled.
While the experience brings joy to the student’s families, school officials, and local communities, perhaps no one feels more joy than the exceptional students that get the chance to compete.
“I love how community involved this event is, the amount of support it receives is fabulous,” said an APW parent, Jill Allen. “But I think the best part is that the kids get to just enjoy themselves to the fullest. They have the chance to be free, they get to just be who they are.”